It’s the exam hokey cokey! Level 1/2 certificates were in, now they are out. GCSEs are Level 1/2, but they are in, not out.

Janet Downs's picture
‘As you know academic level 1 / 2 certificates, sometimes known as IGCSEs, were first counted in school performance tables from June 2010.’

Nick Gibb, letter to awarding organisations, January 2015,attempting to explain why IGCSEs will no longer count.

This odd pronouncement ignores the fact that GCSEs as well as IGCSEs have been described as level 1/2 certificates. Department for Education (DfE) guidance about EBacc makes this clear. And GCSEs will continue to be labelled level 1/2 even when ‘reformed’. For example, the DfE says Pearson Edexcel level 1/2 GCSE in computer science and WJEC level 1/level 2 GCSE in computer science will be eligible for EBacc from this summer. Is Gibb really saying these two level 1/level 2 exams will only count from 2015 to 2017, a mere two years?

Nick Gibb appears to think only IGCSEs are level 1/2 certificates. He claims they’re not as rigorous as reformed GCSEs and their inclusion in league tables would undermine the integrity of the new ‘gold standard qualification at age 16’.

But IGCSEs have been offered by many independent schools for years. Leave aside the argument about whether they are tougher than conventional GCSEs or easier, the Tories promised to include IGCSEs in school league tables in their 2010 Election Manifesto to create a level playing field between private and state schools. This was one promise they kept (unlike the one about there being no top down reorganisation of the NHS). But now they’ve changed their mind.

That playing field has not just become uneven again but is filled with hidden obstacles (is this exam in or out?) and muddy patches (is GCSE a level 1/2 certificate or not?). And the referee (or is it the linesman?) doesn’t seem to have a clue about what constitutes an official ball.

Michael Gove’s rushed exam reforms have caused chaos, instability and uncertainty. And Nick Gibb, in an attempt to show reformed GCSEs are as good as exams in other developed countries (most of which don’t have high stakes exams at 16), has added to the confusion by not appearing to know that GCSEs are Level 1/2 qualifications.

Exam reform is becoming an increasingly mad version of the hokey cokey:

‘You put IGCSE in,
IGCSE out,
In, out, in, out,
You shake it all about.
You do the Govey Cokey, and you turn around.
That’s what it’s all about.’

Our children and our schools deserve better than this farce.

ADDENDUM 20 January 2015. It appears the Level1/2 certificates which Nick Gibb was referring to were IGCSE-style qualifications. There are other IGCSE which aren’t labelled Level1/2 certificates. These are just plain IGCSEs (for example Edexcel IGCSE English Language). These IGCSEs counted in league tables for the last time in 2013. According to the official EBacc list (downloadable here), schools will be expected to move from these IGCSEs to the ‘regulated version’. This is a U-turn from Nick Gibb’s statement in June 2010:

‘It’s not for government to decide which qualifications pupils should take, or to force the development of new qualifications…’.

But confusion still reigns. According to the approved list, AQA Level 1/2 certificate in History and AQA Level 1/2 Certificate in Geography (both labelled IGCSE-style) ‘will count in the performance measures for the first time in 2016.’ In, out, in, out. As I said – it’s a farce. The only rational response is for schools to ignore whether exams are counted in league tables and offer exams which best suit their pupils and ensure continuity.
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Trevor Fisher's picture
Mon, 19/01/2015 - 09:32

Its not alas an odd comment by Gibb, but an attempt to influence schools to take the new GCSEs and not the IGCSE.

The reality is that GCSEs are not the reformed paradise that the government claims them to be, and have never been road tested. WHile A Level reform has taken most of the flak, the GCSE reforms are a road crash waiting to happen.

Many teachers want out and would take IGCSE but are frightened of not appearing in the league tables. The league tables now take out the IGCSE.

It won't make any difference to the independent schools, but will to state schools, who are likely to make appearing in the tables the priority. They can legally take IGCSEs, but are frightened to put their pupils first

Thus they will gamble with untried exams which could collapse.

This is about to happen, so a serious debate on exam reform is essential as GCSE impacts on post 16. In the immediate future, as we are coming up to Performance Table day, a serious effort needs to be made to make media aware that Performance tables are being manipulated and have long since stopped showing how schools perform.

Trevor FIsher.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 19/01/2015 - 10:10

Trevor - what's needed, therefore, is for schools to have the courage to offer IGCSEs if they think it's in the best interest of their pupils (ie a known syllabus, familiarity, and not 'reformed'). Some grammar schools may do this secure in the knowledge that league table position is immaterial to them - they can tell parents they're doing IGCSEs for educational reasons even if it means they will appear at the bottom of league tables. But non-selective schools are pilloried if they appear at the bottom - 'shamed' as underperforming - so they would need to be really brave to ignore the effect of exam choice on their league table position.

That said, Gibb's comment shows a complete lack of understanding about exams. He claims Level 1/2 exams are known as IGCSEs. But IGCSEs are just a sub set of Level 1/2 exams which also include conventional GCSEs. He says Level 1/2 exams will be removed from league tables apparently not understanding that if his statement were true then ALL GCSEs would be removed.

If the School Reform Minister shows such ignorance, then education in England is truly shafted.

Barry Wise's picture
Mon, 19/01/2015 - 12:56

To be fair Janet, the Minister is not really displaying ignorance. Ofqual and the exam boards such as AQA have long employed a convention of using "level 1/2 certificates" to refer to IGCSEs and their derivatives. This allows them to lump together IGCSEs and the Pearson/Edexcel equivalents and distinguish them from GCSEs.
Here's an example of Ofqual doing it:

You are right that strictly speaking GCSEs could be seen as level 1 & 2 certificates too, with grades of C and above being level 2 and D-G being level one.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 19/01/2015 - 13:30

Barry - it gets worse! If Ofqual gives the impression that only IGCSEs are Level 1/2 qualifications, then it raises questions about Ofqual's competence and its ability to explain the qualifications system clearly. The link I provided to DfE advice about EBacc describes new GCSEs which will count towards league tables from 2015. They are clearly labelled as Level1/2 exams.

Government advice makes it clear what's meant by Level 1 and Level 2 qualifications. GCSE is ONE exam (not two) but, as you rightly say,it can be passed at two levels: Level 1 being grades D-G, and Level 2 being grades A*-C.

Exam boards were describing GCSEs as Level 1/2 qualifications up to last summer eg

Pearson Edexcel Level1/Level2 GCSE in English Language
OCR Level 1/2 GCSE in English
AQA Level 1/Level 2 GCSE in English.

See List of Qualifications that count in the EBacc here.

So if it's been a 'convention' to describe IGCSEs (which were also included in the EBacc list above) as Level 1/Level 2 exams, the same convention has been applied to GCSEs.

You'd think ministers and Ofqual would know that.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Mon, 19/01/2015 - 12:07

if we are amazed at political ignorance Janet, we need our bumps feeling. I have not had a sensible conversation about Education with any politician since Blunkett. I mean it. I did, and can, have a sensible talk with Blunkett, difficulties notwithstanding. No one since.

However there is method to the madness. He does not know about the sub set of level 1-2 exams, or so I can believe. But he knows about IGCSEs. And he does NOT want any schools doing them as they can be benchmarked internationally. Gove once said (2009) the beauty of the International system was it could not be interfered with by politicians. Then he became minister.

On this front the attempt to stop state schools doing IGCSE so the new GCSEs can look good is likely to succeed. If the ASCL took a stand, I would change my mind. But watch the secondary heads carefully, they rolled over on EBacc and generally look to be made of high grade putty.

However our big problem in media. Politicians may understand the game they are playing. Media never does.

As we are now coming up to Propaganda Day, the release of the 2014 league tables, the big issue is to establish via a note to the media how the tables are changed politically. This is the year that Voc QUals drop out.

However IGCSE should still be in. So this is a benchmark year, performance at IGCSE v GCSE. It will not happen in 2017 and beyond.

So now can we get the media to understand these are not gospel carved in stone?

I am open to offers!

Trevor Fisher.

Barry Wise's picture
Mon, 19/01/2015 - 14:01

Actually, that EBacc list you link to makes it all clear. The distinction is made between "Level 1/2 GCSEs" and "Level 1/2 Certificates". The former are (unsurprisingly) GCSEs, while the latter are "IGCSE-style" qualifications. Hence:

AQA Level 1/Level2 GCSE in English Language
AQA Level1/ 2 Certificate in English Language

Andy V's picture
Mon, 19/01/2015 - 17:07

In light of the top story I found it interesting to note that a top performing fee paying school hit today's headline with "Free online textbooks from top private school":

What I also spotted was that the first 2 graphics in the article give clear indication that the school does not the difference between intended learning outcomes / success criteria and intended learning objectives. This could lead to an educational debate in its own right.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 19/01/2015 - 19:27

PS The freebies are written for the iGCSE

Trevor Fisher's picture
Mon, 19/01/2015 - 20:53

Indeed there needs to be a debate, but about IGCSE and GCSE and why the government won't let state schools do the IGCSE. This is now becoming the center of the issue after the statement by Gibb on the 16th

The heart of this, and going to what the freebie books offer is all about, is that the independent sector will not accept not doing IGCSE, and intends to stake its claim.

But the state sector will not be able to accept the freebie offer (which is dubious and should be subject to close scrutiny - but OFQUAL can't do it once they said IGCSE is not of the right standard, pre judging the issue - so who can) as they can't do the IGCSE. THe independents will say ours is superior, and here is the evidence.

Rather than get involved in that argument, the key issue here is why the government via OFQUAL is using the performance tables to stop schools taking qualifications they are legally entitled to take.

Which makes the performance tables a political tool, not a guide to performance for parents.

We will shortly have the new performance tables. ASCL and others tried to get their own up and running in the autumn, but will fail against the government stats. So why not prepare a media briefing which explains how this years are different from last years and will be different next year? IGCSE is still OK this year.

Heads to as they are told because they know media will slate them if the don't do what the government stats say they have done via exams

trevor fisher.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 19/01/2015 - 23:20

"The heart of this, and going to what the freebie books offer is all about, is that the independent sector will not accept not doing IGCSE, and intends to stake its claim" I wouldn't disagree but this must also be placed in the context that the independent sector embraced the iGCSE from the outset and some years before state schools started to use them, let alone start to agitate to have them accepted as equal to the GCSE and therefore accepted into the appropriate national benchmarks in the school tables.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 20/01/2015 - 11:05

Barry - ha, ha. Thanks for clearing up my confusion. I thought I was well-informed about education qualifications etc - but Ofqual's decision to call IGCSs 'Level 1/Level 2 certificates' had passed over my head. To me, a certificate is the piece of paper which acts as proof that someone has a qualification. I'm sure certificates are still awarded to those who pass GCSE.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 20/01/2015 - 11:16

Andy - state schools were prevented from doing IGCSEs before 2010 because funding was not available for them to enter pupils for IGCSEs. Independent schools claimed IGCSE's were harder than conventional GCSEs and used this as a marketing tool. However, it was claimed last year that IGCSEs are in fact easier.

Exam boards would deny this and I'm inclined to believe that GCSEs and IGCSEs are the same standard. Schools should, therefore, be able to offer the latter if they so wish.

Andy V's picture
Tue, 20/01/2015 - 11:27

I did not and am not disputing that. Indeed, it corroborates what I was saying.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 20/01/2015 - 12:28

Barry – prepare for even for confusion. I thought your explanation cleared things up. But on checking the approved list, I became even more confused. See Addendum to main article.

Note: this comment should have appeared after the one below. That should be read first unless you want to be even more confused than I already am.

Andy V's picture
Tue, 20/01/2015 - 15:51

Does this make matters any clearer? I've taken it directly from the latest ASCL newsletter:

"The future of IGCSEs
The government announced last week that if new IGCSEs are developed by exam boards, they will not count in future school performance tables.

In July 2014, the government announced that, with the introduction of reformed GCSEs in maths and English in 2015, IGCSEs, (also known as level 1 /2 certificates) in these subjects would not be included in the 2017 performance tables. They also announced that IGCSEs in other subjects would not count from the following year, 2018. This position has not changed. The same rule still applies – if there is a new accredited GCSE available, then legacy GCSEs or IGCSEs in that subject will not count in performance tables.

The announcement last week relates only to the development, by exam boards, of new IGCSEs / level 1 and 2 certificates. The DfE has stated that, even if these are developed by exam boards, they will not count in future tables. The only qualifications that will count are reformed accredited GCSEs and any vocational qualifications on the DfE approved list. For ASCL’s comments on the announcement, read General Secretary Brian Lightman’s blog."

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 21/01/2015 - 18:15

Andy - thanks for that but I still remain totally confused. The newsletter says IGCSEs are known as Level 1/2 certificates. These Level 1/2 certificates (aka IGCSEs) will not count for league table purposes from year 2018. But the EBac list (see addendum above) says AQA Level 1/2 Certificate in History and AQA Level 1/2 Certificate in Geography ‘will count in the performance measures for the first time in 2016'.

So, a newsletter says Level 1/2 certificates won't count from year 2018 but the EBac list says some new Level 1/2 Certificates WILL count from 2016. It may be, of course, that these new Level 1/2 certificates will be dumped from league tables after 2017. In which case, they're rather short-lived.

As I said, the only rational approach for schools is for them to ignore league tables and offer the exams they think best.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 24/01/2015 - 07:19

To add to the exam farce, the BBC reports 'large-scale testing' of the new maths GCSE papers will only now be taking place. Ofqual said this was an 'essential component' of its work.

But this 'essential component' should have been done BEFORE the launch of the exam. The BBC says Sue Pope, chairwoman of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics, told TES 'Ofqual handled the accreditation of the new maths GCSE in a "shocking" way' and accreditation had happened 'too fast'.

This accusation can be leveled at all 'reformed' GCSEs where teaching is to begin this September.

Peter Spain's picture
Thu, 18/06/2015 - 20:44

So is the IGCSE counted or not - Yes or No?

Check out this for ambiguity - 6th file down:

IGCSE appears twice - once in - once out.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Thu, 18/06/2015 - 21:44

sadly most teachers cannot follow these tables, so please can you provide a simple crib - if one is available. As I understand it, the Reformed IGCSE is still allowed,or will be when the new courses starts, and will be funded as approved by OFQUAL.

They will not however be allowed to appear in performance tables due to a decision by Nick Gibb in January

The existing IGCSE is also allowable unless the DFE have changed the rules, but will not be reported in performance tables and were taken out in January performance indicators.

Thus independent and grammar schools will continue to take them if they can ignore performance tables.

If the data here conflicts with that then it needs to be spelt out. It is very useful to have file 6 pointed out, but I suspect most teachers will never get that far. I was told by the chair of a subject association last week that categorically IGCSE has been banned. Only from performance tables I told her. I don't think she believed me.

So please can you give a simple statement of what to look for.

But thanks for picking this up Peter, its very useful.

Trevor Fisher

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